Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Canadian Firearms Registry

Well, we’ve started a bit of a political ballyhoo with some research at Ryerson. I want to affirm here from the beginning that I am an independent researcher, and my research is not out to target or support any single Canadian political party. I am simply a concerned Canadian citizen, and I do not share who I vote for (like most journalists) in order to be as objective as possible in my research.

Working with Wendy Cukier, Neil Thomlinson, and Zachary Devereaux (three Albertans in total on the article including myself!), we went looking to better understand the merits of the Canadian Firearms Registry and what we should do now that it is here, despite its costs running so high initially.

A link to the original newspaper coverage of our study is available here -- "Study shoots holes in $2B 'fabrication'" by Rob Linke:


The main point of the article is that anyone who says the registry cost "$2 billion" is lying to the Canadian people and has not done their research. Officially, the registry has cost near to $1 billion over ten years (Auditor General of Canada, 2006).

Our paper at the Canadian Political Science Association (May, 2009) was cited in the article, and a copy of the paper can be found here:


Some pertinent details include the following:

1) The old registry system cost $30M / year (over ten years = $300M), which would not have had any of the benefits of the new system. The system was definitely in need of an upgrade, which the initial Progressive Conservative Party Bill C-17, a revised version of Bill C-80, under then Justice Minister Kim Campbell, was attempting to provide in 1991.

2) Police consistently maintained that the registry system is an important tool for police, who use it nearly 10,000 times a day according to Steven Chabot, President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (“Public safety will be at risk if gun registry is dismantled,” Toronto Star, 10 April 2009: A23).

3) Public health analysts maintain that gun-related deaths have decreased in Canada since the new Firearms Act became law (Snider et al., 2009; Cukier & Sidel, 2006).

4) Ian MacLeod is the author of the Ottawa Citizen article that describes how police had confiscated 3560 guns nationally in one year, which “would have been more difficult, if not impossible, to locate and confiscate” without the registry:

Source: MacLeod, I. (2009). 92 handguns collected in city since fall. Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved May 29, 2009, from http://www.ottawacitizen.com/handguns+collected+city+since+fall/1640924/story.html

I don’t know about you, but after doing my research, I was quite swayed to go with what doctors and the police think about the registry rather than the non-authoritative accounts.

Contextualizing Costs of the Registry

How can we contextualize the cost of the registry? How much should public safety cost? Yes, the registry went over cost like other IT endeavors – for example, the current Harper minority government’s support of Secure Channel – another $1 billion information technology “boondoggle” – that has gone mostly unnoticed [see: “Government to replace $1B online service ‘boondoggle’” (Ottawa Citizen, May, 2008)] -- but how much should the registry cost now that it is here? What do we do with it?

Here are some numbers to consider:

1) A Canadian Medical Association article placed the costs of gun death and injury in Canada at $6.6 billion (1993 Canadian dollar value) in 1991 (Miller, 1995).

2) The Geneva Small Arms Survey states that productivity losses due to firearms are $1.6 billion annually in Canada (Small Arms Study, 2006).

3) Comparison to other safety investments: A Coalition for Gun Control report “Continued funding for the Firearms Program is essential to public safety” (2004) provides the example that $400 million was used to fix a stretch of road in New Brunswick where forty-three lives were lost between 1996 and 2000. By comparison, Canada has more than one thousand gun deaths every year.

4) Per Capita costs of Other Government Programs: Legal Aid spending in Canada per year (2008, Thursday, July 31), which arguably is very low compared to other Western nations, totalled $583 million (02-03) and $659 million (06-07). The per capita cost was $18.59 (02-03) and $20.19 (06-07) (Tyler, 2008). By comparison, the gun registry costs every Canadian $2.81/year at its current cost.

5) Canada’s Passport Office costs $125 million a year (over ten years = $ 1.25 billion) to register travelers.

Lastly, I’ve also attached the estimated costs of registering guns today from the Canada Firearm Centre:


While the CFC has a budget of $82.3M a year, actually registering the guns is $15.7M, and scrapping the long gun registry would save $3M (according to some estimates). These costs are in fact lower now than the older registry.

However, the only people who seem to want to scrap these things are Conservative politicians linked with the gun lobby and a few rural MPs.

I want to hear more from other people about this, because I really do see the value of the registry at this point after doing the research, and I think citizens shouldn’t take it lightly that MPs Breitkreuz and Hoeppner are lying about public accounts in the House. A $1B error in fact…

All of my Albertan friends who own guns that I have talked to have say a registered gun can kill a moose just as easily as an unregistered gun – in other words, they feel that the registry did cost too much, but now that it’s here we should agree with the doctors and police who argue it is needed for public safety issues.

I was interested to see what happened to the story on-line a month afterward -- Here’s what others think about the story in the blogosphere:

> The reader’s comments on this article from MP Breitkreuz are interesting: http://www.themarknews.com/articles/257-tearing-down-the-long-gun-registry

> http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=printer_friendly&forum=118&topic_id=235208

> http://bcinto.blogspot.com/2009_06_01_archive.html

> http://www.gunpolicy.org/Topics/Gun_Rights.html

Lastly, just to alert some people to the potential consequences of independent research: Some anonymous user named “BigUglyMan” (no word of a lie) on the password protected “Gun Nutz” website profiled me as a “joker” and “a disciple of Wendy” within minutes of the original Rob Linke article being posted. Obviously, I don’t have a brain of my own to make up my mind about the gun registry, and I’m not a concerned Canadian citizen with a right to my own voice…

Michael Ondaatje’s words here are humourously poignant “I was always a private man. It is difficult to realize that I was so discussed” (The English Patient, p. 138), but I guess it comes with the territory of researching issues and networked politics. A member of my family joked that a gun registry is needed simply because people like that exist…

Looking forward to your thoughts and comments!


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